22 April 2017

Review: THE WOMAN WHO WALKED IN SUNSHINE, Alexander McCall Smith

  • this edition ISIS Large Print published 2016
  • ISBN 978-1-78541-174-8
  • 278 pages
  • #16 in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (from the library)

Mma Ramotswe is reluctantly persuaded by Mr J. L. B. Matekoni to take a holiday from her detective work. 

But she finds it impossible to resist the temptation to interfere with the cases taken on by her co-director - secretly, she intends. This leads her to delve into the past of a famous man whose reputation has been called into question, and to join forces with a new assistant detective, Mr Polopetsi. 

While 'on holiday', Mma Ramotswe also manages to help a young boy in the search for his missing mother; and then of course there is the agency's arch-enemy, Violet Sephotho, scheming to set up a rival secretarial college. In the end, Mma Ramotswe finds that a little trust goes a long way, especially when it comes to having confidence in her dearest friends and colleagues.

My Take

As always I have enjoyed the easy readability of this book.

I had intended to use the description at Fantastic Fiction as my synopsis, but what I found there was so far from what actually happened in the novel that it made me wonder where it had come from - not from someone who had read what I read.

So, I am sorry if what I have used above, which came from my local library, is too revealing. I'm sure it leaves plenty for you to find out.

I particularly liked in this novel the exploration of relationships: that between Precious Ramotswe and her husband Mr J.L.B. Matekone, between her and Mma Makutsi, and the compassionate side of Precious Ramotswe. As it turns out, Precious Ramotswe has taught Grace Makutsi well

Once again there is a basis of home spun philosophy, and a gentle use of quite believable and ordinary stories.

My rating: 4.5

I've also read
TEA TIME for the TRADITIONALLY BUILT
THE MIRACLE AT SPEEDY MOTORS

THE DOUBLE COMFORT SAFARI CLUB
4.5, THE SATURDAY BIG TENT WEDDING PARTY
4.5, THE LIMPOPO ACADEMY OF PRIVATE DETECTION
4.6, THE MINOR ADJUSTMENT BEAUTY SALON
4.5, CHANCE DEVELOPMENTS
4.5, PRECIOUS AND GRACE 

20 April 2017

Review: PAST CRIMES, Glen Erik Hamilton

  • this edition published by Harper Collins Publishers 2015
  • ISBN 976-0-06-234455-7
  • 324 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (publisher)

The Anthony, Macavity, and Strand Critics award-winning debut from Glen Erik Hamilton

When his estranged grandfather is shot and left for dead, an Army Ranger must plunge into the criminal underworld of his youth to find a murderer and uncover a shocking family secret in this atmospheric and evocative debut thriller.

Van Shaw was raised to be a thief, but at eighteen he suddenly broke all ties to that life and joined the military—abandoning his illicit past and the career-criminal grandfather who taught him the trade. Now, after ten years of silence, his grandfather has asked him to come home to Seattle. But when Van arrives, he discovers his grandfather bleeding out on the floor from a gunshot to the head. With a lifetime of tough history between him and the old man, Van knows he’s sure to be the main suspect.

The only way he can clear his name is to go back to the world he’d sworn to leave behind. Tapping into his criminal skills, he begins to hunt the shooter and uncover what drove his grandfather to reach out after so long. But in a violent, high-stakes world where right and wrong aren’t defined by the law, Van finds that the past is all too present . . . and that the secrets held by those closest to him are the deadliest of all.

Edgy and suspenseful, rich with emotional resonance, gritty action, and a deep-rooted sense of place, Past Crimes trumpets the arrival of a powerful talent in the mold of Dennis Lehane, Robert B. Parker, and John D. MacDonald

My Take

For ten years Van Shaw's grandfather had not attempted to contact him, but now the message in Gaelic is not just a request, almost a command, and Van knows that his grandfather would not be asking if he didn't need him urgently.

He arrives at his grandfather's house to find Dono on the floor bleeding from a gunshot to the head. Some one flees the house just as he comes in. He has ten days leave from the army, just ten days to find out who shot Dono and why Dono had asked him to come home.  A lot happens in the next ten days and all the action adds a sense of urgency to the novel, as his grandfather lingers in a coma in hospital.

Van finds that he still has some of the skills that his grandfather had taught him in his teens and the army has given him strength and resilience.

A good read that moves at a breathtaking pace. Apparently the first of a series featuring Van Shaw.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
A native of Seattle, Glen Erik Hamilton grew up aboard a sailboat, and spent his youth finding trouble around the marinas and commercial docks and islands of the Pacific Northwest. He now lives in Burbank, California, with his family, punctuated by frequent visits to his hometown to soak up the rain.

Van Shaw Mystery
1. Past Crimes (2015)
2. Hard Cold Winter (2016)
3. Every Day Above Ground (2017)


Anthony Awards Best First Novel winner (2016)

Barry Awards Best First Novel nominee (2016)

Edgar Awards Best First Book nominee (2016)

Macavity Awards Best First Book winner (2016)

17 April 2017

Review: THE MIDNIGHT PROMISE, Zane Lovitt

  • a detective's story in ten cases
  • published by Text Publishing 2012
  • ISBN 9781921922930
  • 283 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Publisher)

A brilliant Melbourne crime novel, told in ten hardboiled stories.John Dorn is a private investigator. Just like his father used to be. It says ‘private inquiry agent’ in John’s Yellow Pages ad because that’s what his old man called himself, back before his business folded, his wife left him and he drank himself to death. 

But John’s not going to end up like his father. He doesn’t have a wife, or much business. He doesn’t really drink, either. Not yet. 

In each of these ten delicious stories Zane Lovitt presents an intriguing investigation filled with humour and complex, beautifully observed characters. At their centre is John Dorn, solving not so much crimes as funny human puzzles; but the crimes, and the criminals, are forever lurking nearby, taunting him from the city’s cold underworld.

It’s his job to unravel the mystery, or right the wrong, or just do what the client has hired him to do. Somehow, though, there is a misstep at every turn, and John takes another small stumble towards his moment of personal truth. His midnight promise. Perhaps even his redemption.

My take

I remember some discussion when this book was first published about whether it is a novel, as the publisher claims, or a collection of short stories.

The setting is an underbelly of life in Melbourne. While the stories do appear to be in sequential order, the actual timing is not very clear. In addition there are characters and incidents that connect some of the stories. Sometimes John Dorn takes on some seriously unsavoury tasks, at other times he appears to be following a thread that he thinks will earn him some money. He is constantly in need of money. Many of the jobs he  carries out do not yield any income at all. Over the period covered by the stories John Dorn's own life goes into a downward spiral. Mostly the stories are very dark, with an underlying black humour.

So in a sense there is a underlying narrative through which we see Dorn's character fleshed out, the overall story progresses, and various issues are resolved. So does that make it a novel?

This is the second time I have read this novel. See my earlier review here
I suspect that I haven't warmed to the novel any more second time around than I did on first reading, although I recognise that it is cleverly constructed. Probably it just isn't my cup of tea.

My rating:  4.3

14 April 2017

Review: THE ASHES OF LONDON, Andrew Taylor

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 3680 KB
  • Print Length: 497 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (April 7, 2016)
  • Publication Date: April 7, 2016
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B015DLTMXG
Synopsis (Amazon)

From the No.1 bestselling author of The American Boy and The Silent Boy comes a brand new historical thriller set during the time of the Great Fire of London. The first of an exciting new series of novels.

A CITY IN FLAMES
London, 1666. As the Great Fire consumes everything in its path, the body of a man is found in the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral – stabbed in the neck, thumbs tied behind his back.

A WOMAN ON THE RUN
The son of a traitor, James Marwood is forced to hunt the killer through the city’s devastated streets. There he encounters a determined young woman, who will stop at nothing to secure her freedom.

A KILLER SEEKING REVENGE
When a second murder victim is discovered in the Fleet Ditch, Marwood is drawn into the political and religious intrigue of Westminster – and across the path of a killer with nothing to lose…

My Take

It is a while since I have read anything by Andrew Taylor (although there is plenty to choose from)

The Stuart Monarchy was restored in 1660 but things were far from easy for Charles II. There were plenty of opponents to the Restoration. Bubonic plague struck in 1665 and now in 1666 came a devastating fire. The King played a decisive role in fighting the fire, giving instructions to firefighters about blowing up buildings to slow the path of the fire, but there are other things to worry about too.
There is a plot to finish the work begun by the execution of Charles I, to prepare the way for King Jesus.

James Marwood's father, a Regicide himself, and a Fifth Monarchist, took his young son to the Banqueting House to witness the beheading of the king in 1649, and he has never forgotten what he saw. Marwood's father, now suffering dementia and in poor health, has been allowed to live in seclusion but there is always the threat of the past taking its retribution.

The story is told from two points of view: the first person narrative of James Marwood, working for a newspaper publisher, and a third person narrative which follows the story of Cat Lovett, also the child of a Fifth Monarchist.  Her father is thought to be abroad having fled when the new King was crowned. The reader has the advantage of being able to meld the two stories.

The historical detail in the story is entrancing. Both James Marwood and Cat Lovett become connected with Master Hakesby, an elderly draughtsman who is working with Dr Wren, the architect and mathematician whom the King has appointed one of his Commissioners for the rebuilding of London. It is inevitable that their paths will cross.

My rating: 4.5

I've also read
THE BARRED WINDOW
4.5, THE FOUR LAST THINGS
4.4, THE JUDGEMENT OF STRANGERS
4.2, THE ANATOMY OF GHOSTS
4.5, THE OFFICE OF THE DEAD 

9 April 2017

Review: THE DIGGERS' REST HOTEL, Geoffrey McGeachin - audio book

 Synopsis (Audible)

In 1947, two years after witnessing the death of a young Jewish woman in Poland, Charlie Berlin has rejoined the police force a different man. Sent to investigate a spate of robberies in rural Victoria, he soon discovers that World War II has changed even the most ordinary of places and people. When Berlin travels to Albury-Wodonga to track down the gang behind the robberies, he suspects he's a problem cop being set up to fail.

Taking a room at the Diggers Rest Hotel in Wodonga, he sets about solving a case that no one else can - with the help of feisty, ambitious journalist Rebecca Green and rookie constable Rob Roberts, the only cop in town he can trust. Then the decapitated body of a young girl turns up in a back alley, and Berlin's investigations lead him ever further through layers of small-town fears, secrets and despair.The first Charlie Berlin mystery takes us into a world of secret alliances and loyalties - and a society dealing with the effects of a war that changed men forever.

My Take

I first read this novel long enough ago for me to have forgotten the finer plot details. Peter Byrne's narration is solidly done, but it is the author's detailed descriptions that place the reader firmly in post-war rural Victoria. McGeachin takes great pains to mention items and events which put us just after World War II.

In some ways Charlie Berlin is still suffering post-war trauma - events from his experience as a P.O.W. and as a bomber pilot keep sending him reminders. Wodonga is a country town still on war alert even thought the war is long over - a squad of local militia still train "just in case" and there are plenty of reminders of the war, including an army camp or two full of discarded weaponry, tanks, trucks and other vehicles.

But they are not the problem - a bunch of armed Harley Davidson riders is - they conduct raids on banks and other places holding money. The latest is the Wodonga Post office, although this is the first one where someone has been hurt.  Charlie Berlin is sent up from Melbourne to find out what is happening, but no-one expects him to succeed.

An excellent read, whether you tackle the audio book or a printed copy. And the start of an award winning Australian series. See below for the list of titles so far.

My rating: 4.8


Previous reviews
4.8, THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL
4.9, BLACKWATTLE CREEK 

4.9, ST KILDA BLUES

6 April 2017

Review: IN FARLEIGH FIELD, Rhys Bowen

  • this edition published by Lake Union Publishing 2017
  • ISBN 978-1477818299
  • 378 pages
  • source: review copy supplied by publicist
  • Author website
Synopsis (source: publicist)

Farleigh Place is removed from the war by more than just miles.
While bombs rain down on London just an hour away, life goes on as usual at this Downton Abbey-like estate in the countryside.
Hampered only by a skeletal wartime staff, a dwindling supply of meat coupons, and an army regiment that's taken up residence at the big house, Farleigh is almost too idyllic to be real—until one night, when a soldier with a failed parachute falls to his death on the grounds, and the war literally hits home for Lord Westerham and his five daughters.

In Bowen's latest page-turner, her fictional storyline is rooted in historical truth. The pro-German societies referenced in this novel were known to have existed in England in the early days of the war. Some of the most dangerous were composed primarily of aristocrats — and there are plenty of aristocrats in Farleigh. So when the dead parachutist, carrying only a photograph, is presumed to be a German spy sent to deliver a message to someone in the vicinity of Farleigh Field, the neighborhood’s most powerful and wealthy aren’t ruled out as targets of suspicion. Ben Cresswell, an M15 operative and son of the local vicar, is dispatched to find the traitor in their midst. And though this quiet bucolic region may seem like an unlikely place to harbor a sympathizer, the area’s black marketeers, arrogant pragmatists, and foreign refugees also raise concerns.

With the help of his lifelong friend and secret love, Lady Pamela — herself a civil servant who cracks German codes at Bletchley Park — Ben investigates for spies and sympathizers. When he learns of The Ring, a secret society that wants to depose the king and make peace with Germany, he can hardly believe it's real. Can Ben and Pamela infiltrate The Ring? And can Ben find out what the photograph means in time to stop the crisis that could bring Britain to its knees?

My Take

Despite the fact that it is now over 70 years since the end of World War II, "behind-the-scenes" glimpses of what was going on during the war make popular reading, whether fact or fictional.

The setting of IN FARLEIGH FIELD is England, May and June 1941. The war could go either way, and already it has taken a great toll on both sides. Many of those living in England believe that if it ends soon, there will be only one possible winner, so resistance and alertness is the key.  Farleigh Place, Lord Westerham's family seat, has already become the base of the Royal West Kents. Unknown to Lord Westerham two of his daughters are already significantly involved in the war effort.

What I liked about this novel was not only the attempt to get the history and the setting right, but the quite believable story of an attempt to bring England to its knees with one or two catastrophic events. The economic and social dislocation caused by the war is well described, supported by a credible cast of characters. Very good reading, particularly if you enjoy historical crime fiction.

My rating: 4.6

I've also read
A ROYAL PAIN
HER ROYAL SPYNESS

About the author
Rhys Bowen is the New York Times Bestselling Author of the Royal Spyness Series, Molly Murphy Mysteries, and Constable Evans. She has won the Agatha Best Novel Award and has been nominated for the Edgar Best Novel. Rhys’s titles have received rave reviews around the globe.
Read more 

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